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Why the NHL Decided to Open Up More Sponsorship Inventory on the Ice

The league spent 3+ years discussing and planning before deciding to go forward with the initiative.

Adam White

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TAMPA, FL – JANUARY 28: Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks skates to the net with the puck during the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game between the Atlantic Division and the Pacific Divison at Amalie Arena on January 28, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Like any good league, finding ways to bring value to both sponsors and the clubs keeps all parties happy and engaged.

For the National Hockey League, opening up four new in-ice spots starting during the 2018-2019 season was about giving clubs the opportunity to find new camera-visible signage and bringing what the league expects to be a “mid-seven-figure per position opportunity for the NHL during the playoffs.”

“It has always been an area that I am interested in developing. Not to only add more logos, but to deliver more value to our current and potential future sponsors,” said Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s Chief Revenue Officer. “If you look at our partnerships at the club level and what our league partners like when it comes to a league-wide event, in-ice positions are generally your largest partners at the club level that garner a significant amount of television impressions.”

What Wachtel sees as the most unique selling point for these particular positions is the opportunity sponsors will have to be a part of the biggest moments of the game as well as the highlights shared across the NHL’s digital platforms and social media channels.

“When we looked at it and considered other signage opportunities, which there are a lot of others that we have explored and that we continue to explore, we know that those four are extremely valuable. If you think about the way the game is played, most of the action that is comprised of goals, big hits, and saves are done in the corners as opposed to necessarily center ice. All of the various instant replays you will see in games but also across social media and highlight packages generally show a goal, a save, or a big hit.”

The league began testing the inventory this past pre-season in China and then followed up that test with placement at this year’s All-Star Game after what had been a three-year dialogue surrounding the initiative.

“We tested them in China during several pre-season games. Then we moved to the All-Star Game which really allowed us to take a look at them on an NHL rink in front of broadcasters, sponsors, clubs, league executives, and fans,” said Wachtel. “Ultimately, we came to the unanimous decision that we would go ahead and install those for the start of next season.”

Mercedes-Benz Arena on September 21, 2017 in Shanghai, China.

Relying on services like Nielsen Sports and GumGum Sports, the league was able to figure out the amount of time each position would be visible during a broadcast. For the teams that wanted to, many conducted their own analysis given that their broadcast angles might be slightly different than others.

Based on those valuations and what the market will bear is how Wachtel and his team see the inventory being sold, a process that the league will help with but will ultimately come down to how each team will decide to package them.

“How they will sell them is going to be unique to each club. They will most likely package them into broader sponsorship deals, because they are not necessarily interested in selling a brand that position without that brand already being a team partner.”

Unlike the four center ice placements, the league will take over control of the corner inventory come playoff time in order to sell a package that will span across every game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs through the Stanley Cup Final.

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“I look at this differently for us,” said Wachtel. “It doesn’t matter who is in the playoffs and that is the issue with the clubs, you don’t know who is going to make the playoffs so the clubs can’t monetize the playoffs the same way that the league could.”

Although we are still close to a month from a team raising Lord Stanley’s Cup above their head, Watchel and his team are already in the marketplace selling the inventory for next year’s playoffs. The exposure potential and exclusivity of the placements are features that Wachtel sees as a differentiator for the league when it comes to working with global brands.

The league tested the inventory at the All-Star Game this year. (Photo via NHL)

“Right now, we are in the marketplace talking about next year’s playoffs, selling anywhere from two to four marketers and those marketers will be at every game, every night, for every playoff game around the world. Because of that, our primary focus is to sell these to global marketers. We want a marketer that values not only the North American exposure, but also the exposure that we provide in all countries throughout Europe, Australia, and China. We have over 160 countries that broadcast NHL games, especially during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”

Seeing that this is the first time the league has added new in-ice inventory since the original four at center ice, the question then becomes where the league goes from here and whether or not patches on sweaters may be next. A topic Wachtel was quick to dismiss given what he believes the impact the new corner inventory will have.

“If you think about it, right now teams in the NBA are selling jersey patches. It’s a great idea and they are making a lot of money from those patches. We aren’t ready to do that yet. We are still exploring it. We think our sweaters are different than that of other sports franchises. We also are looking for what we think would be a bigger impact.”

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

Sponsorship

Lenny & Larry’s, LA Kings Showcase How to Grow a Sports Partnership Over Time 

The Complete Cookie brand displays how to properly take a bite out of the sports partnership landscape.

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Lenny & Larry’s

Photo via Lenny & Larry’s

Sports can be classified as a very niche sector of the industry in terms of marketing. Specifically, for partnership marketing, the deals that are forged are even more specialized. Companies and brands have a good idea of the audience that they are seeking out as they look to partner with teams. Whether it’s increasing brand exposure, maximizing ROI, or directly sampling a new product within the market, sports are the vehicle that can help propel brands to the finish line.

Nowadays, brands and teams are looking to make that road to the finish line more seamless than ever before. Partnership examples that come to mind are hotels sponsoring “kiss cams” and dentistries sponsoring kids clubs. These are partnerships that make sense and fit well into the demographics of the fans interested in those live-experience elements.

So, where does a brand specializing in protein-packed cookies, muffins, and brownies fit in with a hockey team?

Lenny & Larry’s, home of The Complete Cookie, has continued to build an impressive and expansive partnership with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. With the deal in the midst of its fourth year, the two organizations’ collaboration has evolved over its lifetime.

From starting with tabling opportunities and hospitality elements to adding marquee sponsorship pieces, in-game elements, and official designation components, the partnership has blossomed into an impressive array of elements and connectivity for both sides.

READ MORE: Swagtron and Chicago Cubs Show Off Creativity With New Partnership 

Lenny & Larry’s Executive Vice President Aaron Croutch explained the origin of the nutritional brand and how it forged a relationship with one of the most recognizable teams in the NHL.

“My father bought Lenny & Larry’s in 2001,” said Croutch. “At the time the company was only doing small labeled baked goods. Soon after, we began to build a stronger footprint in L.A. from which our family was born and raised. And roughly five years ago, we became a national brand as our products began selling within 7-Elevens, Vitamin Shoppes, Whole Foods, GNCs and other major national retailers.”

As to Lenny & Larry’s forging a relationship with the Kings, two important connections helped to play a role in creating familiarity.

The first involved a relationship with the manager of one of the more famous and well-regarded tattoo artists in the greater Los Angeles area, who had collaborated with Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick on one of his customized goalie masks back in late 2013.

“He and his team really liked our cookies,” said Croutch. “His manager thought there’d be a good connection between us and the Kings. And with us being big Kings fans ourselves, we got introduced to the team.”

The second connection came from the protein cookie brand aligning with another credible partner in the region: Gold’s Gym. The gym’s Venice Beach location was the company’s first-ever account and was already a sponsor of the Kings’ in-game Fitness Challenges.

“We decided to explore a partnership where we could team up with Gold’s Gym and start participating in these fitness challenges,” said Croutch. “As these occurred during the breaks in the game, we would have contestants in the audience participate in a fitness challenge whether it would be 30 pushups or jumping jacks in less than 30 seconds.”

As part of the initial partnership, the winner would receive a Lenny & Larry’s care package complete with products.

“That’s how we initially tested the partnership, and it grew from there,” said Croutch. “It was a great time to be involved with the team as they were just coming off their second Stanley Cup in three years, so they were a very popular team to associate our brand with and help drive some awareness.”

The Fitness Challenge that the brand was initially associated with has taken on a life of its own. Lenny & Larry’s now fully owns that challenge, extending the contest to not just fitness, but any type of competitive contest involving the audience such as a fitness vs. eating competition. Throughout the in-arena promotion, which is featured during every Kings regular-season home game, Lenny & Larry’s utilizes exposure through scoreboard and LED signage, as well as a personalized public address read.

“There is a certain energy that hockey fans bring to a live game that other sports fans can’t replicate,” said Croutch. “It was important for our brand to maintain and grow this element of the partnership.”

As the Fitness Challenge has evolved over time, so to has the overall partnership. In addition to the in-game promotion, Lenny & Larry’s also receives an activation space during all Kings “Fan Fests” outside Staples Center. These activations, located just outside of the arena at the trendy LA Live prior to select Kings games, provide the brand an opportunity to distribute Complete Cookies and its brand-new Complete Crunchy Cookies to fans.

A newer element to the partnership provides a broadcast signage component between the two sides. Lenny & Larry’s receives one 10-minute block of virtual signage behind one goal net during Kings’ home games broadcasted on FOX Sports West. During the 2017-2018 season, the virtual exposure netted $601,698 in gross media value for Lenny & Larry’s, according to Nielsen Sport 24.

In partnership with 24 Hour Fitness — another one of Lenny & Larry’s partners where products are distributed — and the Kings, the trio has been a hallmark of consistency regarding the dynamic “Fit To Be King” series. Established in 2015, the series provides Kings fans with suggestions and options for a healthier lifestyle. From customized workouts to healthy recipes to participation in a Kings Fitness Club with fellow fans, Lenny & Larry’s branding can be found throughout the team’s different platforms.

Additional opportunities to provide direct ROI for the brand include point-of-sale locations throughout Staples Center. Located in the general concession stands, Lenny & Larry’s offer its Complete Cookie and Complete Crunchy Cookies to fans attending all events.

“The general population may be looking for healthier options, instead of just hot dogs, nachos, or cracker jacks,” said Croutch. “If they want something else, we are proud to offer an alternative, healthy choice to those still looking to satisfy a sweet tooth.”

New to the partnership this year for the 2018-2019 season is having a dramatic presence within the live action of a home game. The brand has taken ownership of the “overtime” element of Kings’ home games. If any game is still tied at the end of regulation, the following overtime is aptly rebranded to “Crunch Time.” This is in conjunction with the launch of Lenny & Larry’s new Complete Crunchy Cookies.

“We worked with the Kings to get real creative on this,” said Croutch. “It’s great branding as there will be a PA read, LED signage, and scoreboard signage present throughout every ‘Crunch Time’ game. And best of all, if the Kings win in ‘Crunch Time,’ every fan in attendance will receive a coupon to try our Crunchy Cookies.”

READ MORE: Texas Legends Personal Approach to Partnerships Paying Off 

The partnership between Lenny & Larry’s and the Kings provides a unique and creative fit in the ever-growing health and wellness sector of the snack industry. Yet, in addition to the exposure and brand awareness that Lenny & Larry’s has generated through this partnership, the sheer growth of its business has mirrored it. Since the formation of the Kings’ partnership in 2014, Lenny & Larry’s has grown by a staggering 800-plus percent.

“When we launched with the Kings, our brand was still smaller regionally,” said Croutch. “Now, we have evolved as a national brand that is now a market leader.”

Perhaps the aspect that Lenny & Larry’s is most proud of is the different options it has helped provide to sports fans. In an era of perpetual concession items and continued efforts towards healthier lifestyles for their patrons, Lenny & Larry’s showcases its brand as the standard for aspiring sports teams.

“The Kings are big fans of our brand, and we have enjoyed working with them,” said Croutch. “They wanted to work with a local, growing, active brand doing something different than what was already in the arena. We wanted to provide fans with a healthy alternative, and we are excited that this partnership has continued to provide fans with exactly that.”

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Sponsorship

‘Bundle All the Fun Together’: The Art of Sponsorship Activations in Vegas

A Topgolf game on ice is one example of the creativity the Vegas Golden Knights are able to showcase with a blank slate in a city known for entertainment.

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Photo via Al Powers

With a professional franchise in Las Vegas, the team has had a bit of a blank canvas when it comes to sponsorship activations.

Perhaps a bit manufactured and a bit natural, fans expect extra entertainment at the National Hockey League games in Sin City —and the team has certainly followed through. When it comes to activations before, during or after the game, the goal has been to have fun, said Jim Frevola, the Golden Knights’ senior vice president and chief sales officer.

“We get more of a blank canvas to try things in Vegas than some teams are given,” Frevola said. “We make a conscious effort to fill everything with fun and excitement.”

Among a long list of partnerships that have caught the eyes of consumers, the Golden Knights’ collaboration with Topgolf might be the best example of the creativity behind the sponsorship activations at T-Mobile Arena.

The golf-game establishment — where participants aim for targets on a field — is brought to life on ice during the game’s intermissions. Fans might find themselves trying to slide a puck onto Topgolf targets projected onto the ice for a chance to win a variety of prizes.

“The best part with the partnership of Topgolf is they’re not a traditional brand sponsoring every team like a Geico, Coca-Cola or Budweiser,” Frevola said. “But they are a big, fun brand and people get excited when they hear about it. It’s a fun, natural fit that’s not seen in every arena or stadium.”

READ MORE: Why Mastercard Holders Will Soon Get Unique Benefits From Topgolf

Frevola said each activation is a collaboration between the sponsorship sales team, sponsor, and in-game entertainment team with three goals. They must ensure the fan has fun, the brand is a fit, and it fits organically into the game.

Topgolf leadership members wanted to have an activation that showcased their brand. With the targets so integral to the Topgolf brand and better ice projection technology, Frevola said it was an easy connection to make.

The actual challenge isn’t all that difficult, Frevola said, as fans and the sponsors both want the fans to succeed.

“It’s not hard to do; there’s a little skill, but the hardest shot is the first one as they hone in,” Frevola said. “I’m a golfer and it’s probably easier than the real Topgolf.”’

The Golden Knights have also hit it big with several other activations, like the Krispy Kreme shutout promotion. While other teams have similar promotions, Frevola said it seems to have a life of its own in Vegas. Part of it is the fans, but a lot has to do with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s given the city six shutouts this season. Following one of the wins, Fleury made his way to a Krispy Kreme.

“He really gets into it and so do the other players,” Frevola said. “The last shutout, with 35 seconds or so left, the other team pulled their goalie and [Golden Knights defenseman] Deryk Engelland took a shot off the chest to save a goal. It was 2-0; it wouldn’t have hurt. He never said it, but I think Deryk wanted some donuts.”

He also mentioned the relatively new William Hill activation, which offers fans the chance to shoot a puck across the ice for free play bets in the William Hill app.

Soon, a Zappos activation will take to the road as a “Battle Wagon.”

Out of the arena, Frevola said one of the most successful business development wins has been a partnership with Station Casinos, which offered its “Boarding Pass” members free bottles of the Golden Knights’ branded wine last season.

READ MORE: How the Golden Knights Landed Their Sportsbook Partnership With William Hill

“It was wildly successful,” he said. “The best sponsorship activations in sports is to drive customers to a location, and they flocked in for the product.”

Even the simple things seem to be more playful in Vegas, he said. Like the penalty kill, which is sponsored by a lawyer, and the NV Energy power play.

“It’s not just one game, but couple it with a few games, a shutout, the castle, and the drum line,” he said. “Bundle all the fun together and it’s very infectious.”

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Swagtron and Chicago Cubs Show Off Creativity With New Partnership

The “e-rideables” brand breaks into the sports industry by teaming with the historic baseball team.

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Cubs - Sports - Business

Photo credit: Swagtron

In the grand scheme of today’s culture, sports are very far-reaching. Sports serve as topics of discussion in everyday life as they cross over into entertainment, political and economic sectors of culture. And yet because sports are a dominant part of our environment, businesses wanting to get involved have turned to a more niche approach in order to gain attention from both sports fans and consumers.

Specifically, when it comes to stadium experiences, whether it is providing more efficient ways of getting from one end to another or even getting to the venue itself, teams are always looking for the next niche to improve their end product. And to top it off, it must be executed in an eye-catching way that will resonate with fans. An ideal fit would be a brand that can skate, hover or even scoot past the competition.

With a first-of-its-kind partnership, electric “e-rideables” brand Swagtron has partnered with the Chicago Cubs as the team’s official electric bike, scooter, skateboard and hoverboard partner for the 2019 season. On the brand side, Swagtron products, such as the Swagger 5 Elite Folding Electric Scooter and the EB5 Folding Electric Bike, will bear the “Official Electric Rides of the Cubs” designation.

READ MORE: Texas Legends Personal Approach to Partnerships Paying Off 

On the team side, the partnership will allow the baseball club to utilize an official Swagtron electric bike and scooter charging station for fans outside Wrigley Field throughout the season. Swagtron products will also be available for purchase at official Cubs stores located adjacent to Wrigley Field as well as within the Sloan Park Team Shop at the team’s spring training facility.

For Swagtron, the breakthrough into the professional sports industry was not a premeditated effort. Rather, it originated from Cubs’ personnel naturally embracing the brand’s products.

“The partnership came about rather organically,” said Jason Wakefield, Swagtron’s chief marketing officer. “Before a Cubs game, pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. was seen riding a Swagcycle on the field in full uniform. The images quickly went viral on social media.”

Edwards Jr., who was not endorsed by Swagtron, nor an official representative of the brand, was simply loosening up before the game and enjoying riding around on his electric bike.

“Swagtron products have proven to be tremendously popular among athletes as they are practical to getting around venues. With Edwards Jr., that was just his personal ride. The fans loved it and that’s where our conversation with the Cubs really began.”

From there, the “e-rideables” brand did its homework on the fanbase and noted that the demographics, loyalty and sheer enthusiasm of Cubs’ fans aligned well with those of Swagtron customers.

“The demographics of Major League Baseball fans were very in-line with our own,” said Wakefield. “But what further enticed us strategically to Chicago was that the Cubs are one of the most loved and iconic franchises in baseball. They have such mass appeal and passionate fans that it made the entire concept easy to embrace.”

The fit for Swagtron and Chicago isn’t just limited to within the confines of Wrigley Field. Wakefield foresees massive growth within the “e-rideables” industry especially within a large city such as Chicago.

READ MORE: Why Delta Private Jets Signed With MSG as a Suites Partner

“Light electric vehicles, or LEVs, like electric bikes and scooters are only going to become more common especially in urban centers where last-mile solutions are practical. From an environmental standpoint, that can’t come soon enough. Swagtron aims to be at the forefront of making efficient, eco-friendly alternatives that are affordable and accessible for everyone.”

Both Swagtron and the Cubs have already collaborated on new, enriching content to help highlight the partnership. Earlier this month, Swagtron teamed up with Cubs Charities to surprise Cubs Scholar Sean Waight. Waight, who experienced transportation issues after a new internship added an additional six miles each way to his commute (as well as constant bike maintenance for his older second-hand bike), was gifted with a plethora of Swagtron rides to help make his everyday commute a bit more enjoyable.

“We gave him some early holiday gifts to make sure he can get to his internship, and soon, college,” said Wakefield. “Our short film, called “Giving is Electric,” highlights our teamwork with Cubs Charities to help make this possible. It definitely hits all the feels.”

Moving forward into next year, Swagtron will team up with the Cubs to showcase its products via team players and Clark the Cub, the team’s official mascot. The brand will collaborate on exclusive content, unique promotions and creative events that will help distinguish the brand to be unlike anything in the “e-rideables” industry.

“We’re excited to see the Cubs ride into 2019 with a little extra swag,” said Wakefield, “and to give fans in Chicago and across the country the chance to #RideLikeaPro.”

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